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A runaway read of sport and life in the old SA

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By Mark Etheridge

With the Comrades Marathon celebrating its 90th anniversary on Sunday a special celebration of a man whose life was (and still is) inextricably associated to it in more ways than one is particularly relevant
Bob de la Motte ran just five Comrades Marathons and won three golds, a silver and a bronze.
He’s written a book titled Runaway Comrades and it’s clear from the outside that the race was an integral part of his life, as it was and still is for thousands of South Africans.
Before relocating to Australia in 1987 De La Motte’s hard-running presence made the Comrades Marathon an eminently more memorable race at the height of the Bruce Fordyce dominated era.
Bob’s been described as one of the best Comrades Marathon runners never to have won the event. and indeed if it wasn’t for the BOB-factor he would have been a winner. In this case, BOB translates to the Brilliance of Bruce! Not once, not twice but thrice it was only Fordyce who did the job on Bob.
However, this book is so much more than Comrades. It’s a story about both the growing of a footrace as well as a figurative race to bring the various races of the rainbow nation together in a common purpose.
It takes in the turbulent transitional times of political and social change while all the time, the Comrades Marathon winds a common thread in the background
The actual race is roughly 90km but this book goes so much further than that, a literary journey that can’t be measured in mere miles or perfectly calibrated kilometres. This is a roller coaster story from the heart with despairing detours, humorous hills, triumphant turns and ultimately a fulfilling finish straight.
It also speaks for the unspoken, the many superbly talented athletes of colour, who were caught between the discriminatory laws of the government of the time and the rejection of the international world.
Having being involved closely with so many of these said runner from a newspaper sports reporting perspective, it’s particularly pleasing to see Bob donating proceeds of this book to those almost forgotten souls.
It’s a book that spells out meticulously just what life was like growing up in the 70’s and 80’s both sports wise and generally, the good and the bad, the successful and the sad.
Forget about the more established prescribed history books that our kids have to read as part of their tertiary education.
This book should be required reading for school-going kids. Sure it’s history but it’s more than that… it’s a true reflection of the twisting, turning sporting life in South Africa.
De La Motte will be at the Comrades expo in Durban this week and runners, wannabe-runners and anyone with even a passing interest in South Africa’s sporting past, can do themselves a favour by picking up this rollercoaster of a read!


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